Time to challenge faith based admissions?Posted: January 8, 2014
In the latest twist in the faith school admissions saga, the Telegraph revealed last week that there has been a “surge in late baptisms to get into top Catholic schools”. Apparently the proportion of both Catholic and Anglican baptisms which are of older children is increasing. The article suggests that this is because when they come to think about schools, parents realise that baptism is the first key step towards entry to a church school.
The evidence for this conclusion is perhaps fragile. The church’s response was that “the move was indicative of more modern attitudes towards Catholic traditions, which has also seen a sharp decline in those taking part in confession and following rules on contraception. The social control exercised by the bishops and clergy over the Catholic laity has been hugely reduced” – a comment that perhaps is of interest in its own right regardless of whether it addresses the issue of school admissions.
That such an article should appear in the Telegraph however is in itself significant. It tells us that the idea that church school admissions are riddled with fraud and hypocrisy is becoming mainstream. Two rather more substantial pieces of work have added weight to this proposition recently.
The Sutton Trust, late last year, published a significant piece of research on how parental choice actually works (http://www.suttontrust.com/news/news/almost-a-third-of-professional-parents-have-moved-home-for-a/). One feature was to ask parents what they might be prepared to do to get into the school of their choice. Amongst better off parents some 10% had actually attended church purely to get a school place. Earlier research quoted in the report showed that some 20% of parents “said that they would lie or exaggerate their religious beliefs” to get a school place.
Most important though has been the magnificent piece of work by the Fair Admissions Campaign (at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/) which showed beyond any doubt just how socially selective church schools actually are. The core finding is that “schools with no religious character typically admit 11% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected. However, Church of England schools admit 10% fewer; Roman Catholic schools 24% fewer; Jewish schools 61% fewer; and Muslim schools 25% fewer.”
This data is based on an analysis of every faith school. It makes it possible is to identify the actual schools that are most selective – and indeed those that are not. The research shows that:
“Only 16% of schools select by religion but they are vastly overrepresented in the 100 worst offenders* on free school meal eligibility and English as an additional language. They make up 46 of the worst 100 schools on FSM eligibility and 50 of the worst 100 on EAL. If grammar schools, University Technical Colleges and Studio schools are excluded, religiously selective schools account for 73 of the worst 100 on FSM eligibility and 59 of the worst 100 on EAL.”
*By worst offenders they mean the schools that are most different from their locality in terms either of free meal numbers and EAL numbers.
The research also identifies non- religious schools that have intakes that are untypical of their area. We know of course about grammar schools and how few poorer children get into them. Perhaps more surprising is that two of the early UTC show the same pattern – indeed Aston UTC is in the worst 1% of schools for both FSM and EAL. The same is true of some so-called comprehensives. There is a detailed job of work needed to understand how those schools manage to get such favoured intakes.
But, to come back to the faith issue, this is beginning to feel like an issue that is moving at long last into the mainstream. Until very recently it has been filed, even by many opponents of faith schools, as too hot to touch. And of course in this area at least, despite Alistair Campbell’s advice, New Labour did do God.
But now the understanding that many parents play the system is out into the open. Some Church of England bishops have been sufficiently embarrassed by the situation to propose some changes, though they have soon been slapped down by those with an interest in the status quo.
Ideally, selection by faith would go completely in the interests of social cohesion. But even if we’re not ready for that, there is much that can be done. A revised admissions code could outlaw many of the tricks played by many church schools. Most important would be making basic church membership (i.e. baptism) the only allowable criterion – why after all should church schools be allowed to give priority to the most stable, best organised families – those who can show an unblemished record of church attendance not to mention their contribution to church activities?
And of course there is the basic question – how do these faiths square this state of affairs with what they claim to be their social mission?
ps Telegraph readers beware – late baptism is not good enough for the London Oratory. You get twice as many points for baptism in the first six months!